Thursday, August 4, 2022

Like A Boss : Noah's Heart First Impressions #3

It finally happened! Late yesterday afternoon, not long after dinging 53, I finally lost a boss fight in Noah's Heart.  The momentous event occurred, co-incidentally but amusingly, mere seconds after I'd received the misleadingly-named "Undefeated" achievement, which merely asks that you kill five hundred mobs, not that you don't die while doing it.

It's an achievement that tells a story of its own: Noah's Heart is not primarily a game about killing things for the sake of it. Five hundred mobs in more than fifty levels is nothing by the standards of almost any mmorpg I've ever played. I would guess most games would see that kill count exceeded in the first ten levels. Many would match it in the first five.

The usual murder-hobo trope just hasn't played a major part in the game so far. There's plenty of hoboing, alright, but precious little murder as you travel from place to place almost entirely for the purposes of conversation. The talking almost literally never ends, while the killing almost literally never starts.

That's if you choose to progress almost solely by following the main story quest, as I have. In doing so, you travel a lot without seeing very much of the world. Every time you need to go somewhere further away than the other side of the street, a portal opens up to teleport you or you find yourself whirring across the sky in a balloon. About the only time I've seen open countryside has been when the plot required me to go somewhere I didn't have the portal for and the game was forced to take me there on horseback.

In my initial First Impressions post I mentioned I hadn't seen much in the way of the usual "Kill Ten Rats" kind of quests. That hasn't changed but I can now also confirm that for the first fifty or so levels, at least, I've not been tasked with many "Fetch" or "Escort" quests either. 

Such traditional quests do exist outside of the core questline, as I discovered when my monomaniacal obsession with the MSQ saw me racing ahead of the expected pace. Twice so far I've had to cool my heels for a while, doing favors for locals in small towns to gain xp until the number next to my name caught up with the level required by the next step in the quest journal.

Even so, I can't say with any confidence there are the kind of xp grind options you'd expect from a game that leaves you to find your own way for a few levels now and then. I did eventually force myself to go exploring, heading over the nearest hill to see what was on the other side, but although I had some adventures, I didn't see many monsters wandering around, doing their own thing, waiting to be popped for xp. I suspect you're supposed to do some of the repeatable instance content instead.

I did quite a bit of that as well. It seemed advisable. My brief experience suggests there isn't a lot roaming around the countryside other than a few small pockets of creatures, probably intended to be culled for crafting materials. I killed a few in passing just to see how tough they were and what they dropped. They either died in one hit or lasted a few seconds at most and all they had were hides, meat and the like. When I figure out how crafting works at least I'll know where to go for the mats.

Such anecdotal evidence isn't of much value, of course. The game tallies exploration stats for all the regions you visit and none of mine stand anywhere higher than 3%, so I wouldn't draw too many conclusions. The absence of aggressive wildlife, bandits, orcs, lizardmen and what-have-you does make the game feel very different from, well, just about any other mmorpg I've ever played, though. 

And not in a bad way, either. It's actually pretty nice just to be able to mosey around the countryside, enjoying the scenery and not getting jumped by the locals. Even other, recent, laid-back games I've enjoyed, like Genshin Impact and Chimeraland, perhaps the two titles Noah's Heart most obviously resembles, don't allow quite this degree of peaceful exploration.

Given the paucity of targets, a reasonable question to ask at this point might be "So how did you come to kill even five hundred mobs, then?" There's a very simple answer: MSQ combat instances. There are loads of them and the further along the storyline I get, the faster they seem to appear.

The pattern is very simple: chat to some NPCs to find out what their problem is; chat to some more NPCs for further details; chat to even more NPCs about what to do next; discover it's going to be a fight.

It's always a fight. That makes it sound more predictable than it really is and there are plenty of variations, but in essence that's the core gameplay loop as far as the MSQ goes so far.

The fights are even more on rails than the story. They always take place in an instanced location. You always teleport there from a window that pops up when you accept the mission. A glowing trail of light always leads you through the instance to the boss. Several groups of mobs always attempt to bar your way. 

Nothing ever happens in the instance other than fights and there's never any need, nor really any opportunity, to look around, much less explore. Every mission is on two timers, a short one for the bonus rewards and a longer one for general quest completion. As soon as you kill the boss you have thirty seconds to leave before the instance closes.

Each of the defending groups has something like four to six members and there are two to four groups before you reach the boss. I'd guess I was killing around a couple of dozen mobs per instance on average. 

All of the above is from memory and therefore subject to revision. I haven't been taking notes.

Until that fateful fight yesterday afternoon, almost none of the mobs, instances or bosses had given me much in the way of trouble at all, to the point where I'd managed to complete every last one of them inside the shorter timer. The regular mobs I just mowed through with no thought or tactics whatsoever; the bosses I occasionally had to take a very slight amount of care over, mostly because the later ones start to exhibit some tactical skills like teleporting or needing to be killed several times before they'd actually die.

I have, as yet, no real understanding of almost any of the elements of the game that contribute to combat efficiency. There's the usual multiplicity of systems relating to power and tactics, everything from team composition, including the choice of which Phantoms to bring for what skills and abilities against which specific mobs that might be vulnerable to them, to the individual skills of those Phantoms and the way they might form combos with one another, to the inevitable upgrades and enhancements for your and their armor and weapons. 

There's a lot more to consider. I've just listed the really basic stuff and I haven't begun to come terms even with that. I've been bumbling along, sticking to the same team (The first four Phantoms I happened to acquire.), letting them level up alongside me as they can. I've spent such development points as I've received pretty much at random and equipped whatever drops purely on the say-so of the automatic gear comparison widget that pops up when you loot anything it sees as an upgrade.

It would be more than fair to say I've done very little to improve my skills, knowledge or tactics at any point since I started playing and that my fighting technique consists of little more than frenetic button-mashing. And yet, in fifty-three levels, I have lost just that one fight and I really should have won that, too.

I knew I was taking a risk when I went in. The bosses, as I said, have been getting tougher but the real issue has been my combat rating compared to that of the instances. There's a very clear, numerical value shown on the pop-up for each mission, letting you know how close to par you are and I've been meticulous in not trying to fight above my weight, even if it's meant putting off an instance for a while until I've done a few other things to boost my numbers. It's about the only serious prep I have done.

Yesterday I got cocky. There was something like a four-thousand point difference in ranking between my team and the instance they were attempting. Not in their favor, obviously. I should have waited but I thought, what the hell, I'll give it a go.

It was a proper fight, probably the only one I've had so far. It went on for nearly ten minutes. More than once things looked rough but I kept believing we were going to pull through. Only the damn boss would not die. 

I lost count but I'm minded to say that by the time he finally got the better of me, he himself had come back from the dead three times. It's a mechanic I personally detest. I'd far rather a boss took three times as long to kill than had three health bars. You kill them, you're done, you know? Or I am, anyway.

Even with everyone down, I should still have been able to kill the boss for the purposes of the mission because there's a free in-instance rez that brings you back at full health, while leaving the boss on whatever percentage he was when you died. I can't give chapter and verse on the exact mechanics because, well, I only saw it that once. I'd never died before.

Given my opponents repeated resurrections I felt entirely justified in using one of my own. The problem was it didn't work. I ran into a bug! It was the first I'd seen in the game and showed up at the worst possible time.

The resurrection itself went perfectly except for one thing: when I reappeared I found myself impaled on the scenery. I could see the boss on the other side of the room but he was out of aggro range and none of my abilities could reach him. I wriggled about every which way but I couldn't get loose. It was frustrating, I'll tell you that for nothing.

The fight had gone on so long, there were only a couple of minutes on the clock when my team went down and rezzing doesn't reset the timer. I flopped around while the timer ticked down to zero. Then the instance kicked me out.

Bummer! Now I have to do it all again, something else I really hate. I've learned my lesson, though. Don't get overconfident. Yes, it's been a doddle up to now but as I said last time, it's really just been an extended tutorial. I think that part might finally be coming to an end. I'm rapidly approaching the point where the things I do begin to matter.

Whether that's going to dampen my enthusiasm we'll have to wait to find out. I'm going to have to start figuring out how some of these systems work and applying that knowledge to building a more effective team. I should probably also not try to fight outside my weight class.

One thing I can say for certain is that the combat in Noah's Heart is a lot more to my taste than in the otherwise very similar Genshin Impact. Not enjoying the fights was the main reason I drifted away from that game. I never felt I had much chance of "getting good" there. 

In Noah's Heart, becoming at least competent at combat does seem like it might be a theoretical possibility. It depends on whether I want to make the effort. And also, I guess, on how the monetization works. It is a Gacha game, after all. 

I don't propose to start spending real money on Noah's Heart so I just hope the developers want a lot of casuals running around, making the place look busy for the paying customers. I imagine they do. After all, there's no point flaunting your wealth if there's no-one poorer than you to see you doing it, is there?

If so, I'll be more than happy to sit on a bench for a while, mumbling "Rhubarb rhubarb" at the whales as they swim by in their finery. I think I'd be pretty good at that.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide